Renae Bechtel - Designing Pony Purses in front of a Hand crank leather sewing machineWhy do I love to make purses from Cowboy Boots?

PonyPurses grew from the creative urge to imagine what could be done with pairs of leather boots that nobody had any use for anymore.

It all started when I walked into a leather shop in Rapid City, SD, saw what people were doing, and thought, “That looks like fun!” I bought the basic tools and was soon tooling and making my own designs on purses. I even made my own dyes from black walnuts and pecans and applied them to my creations.

But the real creative spark came as my husband and I made our annual motorcycle trip to Texas. Just as we were rolling through Fredericksburg, my boot came apart, forcing us to look for a shoe repair shop.

Of course that shop was full of cowboy boots. The beautiful stitching on all those boots entranced me. In a flash of inspiration, I realized, “Hey, I could make purses with these!” So I bought three pairs, bungeed them to the back of my bike, and made the trip home.

I experimented with those three original pairs, trying different purse designs to bring out the best and most beautiful features in each pair, none the same. Just as sculptors looks at hunks of rock and see statues within, I let every purse reveal itself to me from inside the boot.

When I brought these creations into work, my co-workers went nuts over them! One girl commissioned me to make five purses on the spot for her daughter’s upcoming blue-jean wedding. So I made more purses and showed them to other people I ran across. It seemed like as soon as I finished a purse someone would ask to buy it off me. It got so that all I had to show people who asked about them were pictures of the ones I had sold, or the ones I was currently working on.

I branched into making boots from boots of exotic leathers like ostrich and alligator, adding my own hand-made studs, braided trim, and handles. I scoured antique shops for vintage and semi-precious pieces such as Native American worked silver and turquoise, tiger’s eye, carnelian, moonstone, amethyst, and agate.

I have found what I love to do most—making purses from re-purposed cowboy boots and leather. As an artist, I have been drawing and painting since I was six years old. I sold my first painting when I was 12 and at 14 began painting murals. One of my degrees is in Fine Arts with a concentration in Jewelry and Metalsmithing.

Each purse requires approximately 35 to 40 hours of work, all done by hand. I start by envisioning what colors will bring out the most interesting features of each purse. Some of the purses are painted and dyed to accent the stitching, some benefit from the addition of an accent piece that enhances the purse.

From the braiding of the handles in a four-strand round braid to making the trim and the studs, all is done by hand. Only when the purse meets my most exacting standards of quality and design is it ready to be released.

When you find the things that bring you joy in your life, you must follow your heart. This is what I love to do.